Religious Views on Suicide

Perspectives from World Religions

Suicide is the act of ending one's own life. It is considered a sin in many religions and a crime in some jurisdictions. On the other hand, some cultures have viewed it as an honorable way to exit certain shameful or hopeless situations.

To be considered suicide, the death must be a central component and intention of the act and not just an almost certain consequence. Hence, suicide bombing is considered a kind of bombing rather than a kind of suicide, while martyrdom is characterized by self-sacrifice in the service of others in emergencies and reckless bravery in battle usually escape religious or legal proscription.

Buddhism | According to Buddhism, our past heavily influences our present. Furthermore, what an individual does in the present moment influences his or her future, in this life or the next. This is cause and effect, as taught by Gautama Buddha. Otherwise known as karma, intentional action by mind, body or speech has a reaction and its repercussion is the reason behind the conditions and differences we come across in the world.

One's suffering primarily originates from past negative deeds or just from being in samsara (the cycle of birth and death). Another reason for the prevalent suffering we experience is due to impermanence. Since everything is in a constant state of flux, we experience unsatisfactoriness with the fleeting events of life. To break out of samsara, one simply must realize their true nature, by enlightenment in the present moment; this is Nirvana.

For Buddhists, since the first precept is to refrain from the destruction of life (including oneself), suicide is clearly considered a negative form of action. But despite this view, an ancient Asian ideology similar to seppuku persists to influence Buddhists by, when under oppression, committing the act of "honorable" suicide. In modern times, Tibetan monks have used this ideal in order to protest the People's Republic of China's occupation of Tibet and the China's supposed human rights violations against Tibetans.

Christianity | Christianity is traditionally opposed to suicide and assisted suicide. In Catholicism specifically, suicide has been considered a grave and sometimes mortal sin. The chief Catholic argument is that one's life is the property of God, and that to destroy one's own life is to wrongly assert dominion over what is God's. This argument runs into a famous counterargument by David Hume, who noted that if it is wrong to take life when a person would naturally live, it must be wrong to save life when a person would naturally die, as this too seems to be contravening God's will.

On a different line, many Christians believe in the sanctity of human life, a principle which, broadly speaking, says that all human life is sacred ? a wonderful, even miraculous creation of the divine God ? and every effort must be made to save and preserve it whenever possible. Nevertheless, even while believing that suicide is generally wrong, liberal Christians may well recognise that people who commit suicide are severely distressed and so believe that the loving God of Christianity can forgive such an act.

Hinduism | In Hinduism, murdering one's own body is considered equally sinful as murdering another. However, under various circumstances it is considered acceptable to end one's life by fasting. This practice, known as prayopavesha, requires so much time and will power that there is no danger of acting on an impulse. It also allows time for the individual to settle all worldly affairs, to ponder life and to draw close to God.

Islam | Like other Abrahamic religions, Islam views suicide strictly as sinful and detrimental to ones spiritual journey. However, human beings are said to be liable to committing mistakes, thus, God forgives the sins and wipes them out if the individual is truly sincere in repentance, true to the causes and determined in intention.

For those who believed, but eventually disbelieved in God in the end, the result seems unambiguously negative. In the Quran, although God is said to be 'the Most Merciful, the Most Kind' and forgives all sins, the great sin of unbelief is deemed unforgivable. Despite this, there is an unpopular view that actions committed in the course of jihad resulting in one's own death are not considered suicide, even if by the nature of the act death is assured (e.g. suicide bombing). Such acts are instead considered a form of martyrdom. However, there is Quranic evidence to the contrary stating those involved in the killing of the innocent are wrongdoers and transgressors. Nevertheless, some claim Islam does permit the use of suicide only against the unjust and oppressors if one feels there is absolutely no other option available and life otherwise would end in death.

Judaism | Judaism views suicide as one of the most serious of sins. Suicide has always been forbidden by Jewish law, except for three specific cases. If one is being forced by someone to commit murder, forced to commit an act of idolatry, or forced to commit adultery or incest, then in those cases alone would suicide be permissible. However, outside those cases, suicide is forbidden, and this includes taking part of assisted suicide. One may not ask someone to assist in killing themselves for two separate reasons: (a) killing oneself is forbidden, and (b) one is then making someone else an accomplice to a sin.

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